SOMERSET, N.J. – St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary hosted its annual “Christmas at the Seminary” fundraiser concert on December 18, 2021. The event helps to offset the high cost of running the seminary, and it gives guests a chance to visit this institution of higher learning that prepares future clergy.
In its 47th academic year, St. Sophia Seminary is a center of spiritual and intellectual life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., here and abroad. Throughout the pandemic, the seminary has proven to be a beacon of light and joy to many, where the faithful join via livestream for the daily Divine Liturgies, as well as morning and evening prayer services.
Guests took the opportunity to get to know the students, joined in services and started off the Christmas season with joy and laughter. This was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the event was once again not only livestreamed, but held in person.
With the blessing of Metropolitan Antony, prime hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. and Diaspora, first-time guests were led by Archbishop Daniel, who guided a short tour of the facility, providing a short history of the establishment, bringing everyone’s attention to the icons adorning the walls and explaining their origin and whom they represent. The study room, which is filled with computers and desks, is used by the seminarians during their lessons and to communicate with loved ones in Ukraine and elsewhere.
Taking a step down to the dining room and making a quick left turn, Archbishop Daniel led guests to the kitchen where he explained that the seminarians not only learn to be self-sufficient in their own lives, by preparing meals, in the kitchen they learn how to bake prosphora, paska breads and Artos, all of which they will be responsible for when they are ordained into the priesthood. Pointing to some of the appliances on the countertops, such as the heavy-duty stand mixer, the archbishop explained that it is thanks to donations from previous “Christmas at the Seminary” celebrations that the students are able to hone their baking skills.
Archbishop Daniel led the tour group into the Three Holy Hierarchs Seminary Chapel, where he explained a short history of the chapel and then brought everyone’s attention to the many relics housed within, including a fragment of the True Cross of Christ. As Archbishop Daniel crossed himself and quietly left to tend to other guests, the visitors settled down for a few minutes of quiet introspection and prayer in the chapel.
Archbishop Daniel called for attention as he stood near the twinkling Christmas tree in the dining room to begin the concert at 3 p.m. The guests all smiled as the little girl in his arms, young Taissa, the youngest daughter of Fr. Vasyl and Dobrodijka Oksana Pasakas, rubbed her sleepy eyes and smiled sweetly at everyone. The camera turned on and hundreds of virtual guests joined those in the room just as Archbishop Daniel introduced the eight seminarians and bid them to come in.
All proudly wearing their Ukrainian embroidered shirts, the concert began with the seminarians singing “Dobrij Vechir Tobi” (Good Evening to you) as they filed to their places near the Christmas tree. Fr. Andrii Drapak, Deacon Serhij Khomitskyi, Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan, Subdeacon Pavlo Vysotskyi, Reader Maksym Zhuravchyk, Reader Andrii Vatrych, seminarian Andrii Akulenko and seminarian Roman Marchyshak regaled all with wondrous renditions of new and old Christmas carols.
Having beautifully sung a number of Ukrainian carols, the young men switched to English for “Shchedryk,” or as it is known in English the “Carol of the Bells.” “Nebo i zemlia” (Heaven and Earth) was sung bilingually, followed up by the traditional “Nova Radist Stala” (A New Joy). The program continued for 30 minutes, as the well-trained voices sang and praised the Lord.
As the program concluded, Archbishop Daniel introduced each seminarian and greeted their families back home, with seminarians hailing from all over Ukraine – from Kyiv to Ternopil to Buchach. Moreover, the archbishop introduced a number of graduates of the seminary who were in attendance, but especially the part-time students who were in attendance, of the programs during their annual Academic Retreat at the Seminary: Deacon John Cummings, Brian Delp, John Petterson, Illia Val and Kathleen Kopach.
The archbishop thanked all who had joined the celebration and acknowledged the good start to the Christmas festivities. He encouraged anyone who wished to purchase a CD of Seminary Carols to visit the uocofusa.org website and click on the bookstore link. Thanks were also sent to all who donated, and the archbishop encouraged anyone else who wished to donate online to visit the seminary website and click the yellow donate button at the bottom of the page. All donations go toward housing and training the young men who will one day be the clergy of the Church. With a final blessing and applause, the livestream ended, and everyone in the room congratulated the seminarians for the wonderful program.
Even though the program ended the guests lingered, enjoying their hierarchs’ and each other’s company. Christmas plans, gift-giving ideas, recipes for kutia and uzvar, as well parish activities were shared by the audience members.
Readers who would like to donate to St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary are encouraged to visit the seminary’s website, www.stsuots.edu.